By Joseph Staszewski
Metta World Peace is coming home.
The former St. John’s University star and Queensbridge native formerly known as Ron Artest announced at the Knicks Summer League game in Las Vegas that he was signing with the team for the coming season. The deal became official July 16.
The 6-foot-7 forward was recently released by the Los Angeles Lakers under the league’s amnesty clause after four years. His Knicks contract is reportedly for $1.6 million with an option for year two. He will wear No. 51 in honor of his father’s high school number, with No. 15 being retired in honor of Dick McGuire and Earl Monroe.
For World Peace, the return to New York brings his now-14-year NBA career full circle. The New York Knicks had a chance to draft him in the first round with the 15th pick in 1999, but made the controversial selection of French center Frederic Weiss. Weiss never played a game in the NBA while World Peace, who was selected next, was the league’s defensive player of the year in 2004. He is looking forward to the challenge of getting to play in New York again.
“When you win in New York, that’s the hardest thing to do,” World Peace said in an interview on MSG during a Knicks Summer League game. “The easiest thing to do is go somewhere else, maybe get a few extra bucks and it’s OK. The media is tough and I need something that’s tough right now, and I want to win where it’s the hardest to win, and that’s home.”
He’s averaged 14.1 points and 4.7 rebounds over his career. Last year World Peace put up 12.4 points and 5 rebounds with the Lakers, where he won an NBA title in 2010. He also had stints with the Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers.
“Metta is a fierce competitor who brings toughness and championship experience to our roster,” Knicks General Manager Glen Grunwald said in a statement. “We are excited to bring him back to New York and give him a chance to play for the team he grew up rooting for.”
World Peace told reporters at the Summer League he was honored to join this group of Knicks, which won the Atlantic Division for the first time since 1994 and reached the second round of the NBA playoff before losing to Indiana. Former NBA guard and fellow Queens native Rafer Alston believes World Peace can be a key addition for the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony.
“Now Carmelo doesn’t have to score a lot and guard the best player on the team,” Alston said. “World Peace can guard the best player on the other team. He will give them that physical presence, too.
World Peace does know a few things about winning in New York City, doing so during his two seasons at St. John’s. The former LaSalle standout was an All-Big East selection as a sophomore in 1998-99, when he averaged 14.5 points and 6.3 boards. He helped the Red Storm reach the Elite Eight, where they lost to Ohio State. St. John’s hasn’t gone that far since.
“Obviously I stayed at St. John’s because it’s tough to play in New York,” said World Peace.
The challenge will only be tougher this time around.